Olmsted County works to contain whooping cough outbreak

Olmsted County officials are working to contain a pertussis outbreak.

Since January, the county has had 127 cases, a number they haven't seen since a pertussis spike four years ago.

The bacterial infection, commonly known as whooping cough, originated in teenagers. Schools posed the highest risk for spreading the disease.

Health officials hoped that after the school year ended, the cases would decline. But now, the illness has spread to the larger community affecting a range of people, but still mostly teenagers.

Stacy Sundve, an epidemiologist at Olmsted County Public Health, says the disease is spreading at daycares, summer schools and youth athletics programs.

"What we're speculating [is] that some parents do not know that there is kind of a community outbreak of pertussis and that they are still sending their child to these activities when they are actually experiencing pertussis symptoms [that are] mistaken for possibly the common cold," Sundve said.

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The initial symptoms of pertussis include a runny rose, slight cough and possible fever. Those symptoms grow to vomiting and a severe cough as the illness progresses.

Health officials are following up on all pertussis cases and sharing information with close contacts on how to prevent the disease.

"As of last week we worked with over 50 community activities, anything from the schools, the childcare settings, any youth activities or sports, to really kind of get them informed that a case of pertussis had been diagnosed," Sundve said.

To combat pertussis, health officials are urging people to check their vaccination history. Immunizations become outdated and adults may need to get the Tdap booster vaccination.

Children receive five doses of pertussis vaccine before kindergarten. Then when they are 11, they get a booster called Tdap, a combination vaccine that offers protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

"Some past research, or even more current research I could say, is showing that this past Tdap booster is not as effective as the previous booster," Sundve said. "And actually, immunity wanes after five years. So then there's a current initial recommendation that adults 18 and older [should] receive the Tdap booster. So if somebody knew that they were on track to get their updated Td booster, going into a healthcare provider they would be recommended [to get] that Tdap."

Sundve also says that pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy since infants are in the high risk category for pertussis.